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By the Prophet of the Earth

By L.S.M. Curtin

(Informant: Mason McAffee)
picture of house

Nine forked mesquite (kivi) posts, green or dry, are sunk two feet in the ground, with about seven feet above ground and five or six feet apart according to the length of the three main cross-beams, which are usually of cottonwood, but never of mesquite, because it does not grow straight. The ends of the cross-beams are placed in the forks of the uprights. Transverse beams of cottonwood (aupa) or willow (chi ul) are laid about one foot apart over the main beams. Arrowwood (408 hawkmaki) stems are next laid close together across the lesser beams to form the ceiling; to make the eaves these are extended about a foot beyond the walls. When plentiful, cattails are employed for this purpose, as they make a neater finish. After harvest, wheat straw is laid across the arrowwood. For finishing the roof mud is tramped down and sloped downward toward the eaves. In olden days any kind of mud was used; but now the Indians prefer the clay on banks of irrigation ditches. Women carried the mud in baskets; in modern times a wagon is used.

For the walls, small willow poles are stuck into the ground, about two feet apart, and bound to the upper poles with green willow shoots or bark. Willow or slender cottonwood poles are tied horizontally across the uprights about two feet apart, then arrowweed is stood up close together and held in place with crossbars outside, which are tied on. Nowadays entire houses are often bound together with baling-wire. Walls are plastered both inside and out. According to Mrs. Emma Howard, dry ribs of dead sahuaro are collected and used to form the framework of a house. Floors are covered with sand to prevent dust from rising; but in summer they are kept sprinkled, which helps to maintain a comfortable entrance. In the past, doors, as well as sleeping mats, were made of vaapk, which my informant translated as 'bamboo,' but doubtless it was a cane that no longer grows in the river bottoms. (See Russell, p. 147.)

An important adjunct to a Pima dwelling is the ramada (Spanish, enramada), or arbor (vahto), which is constructed in the same manner as the framework for the house. In order to obtain the best circulation of air, it is built a short distance away from the dwelling. In the shade of the ramada in summer the Pima spend most of their waking and sleeping hours. When there is no outside kitchen, cooking is done here and the food is served on a table therein. Bedsteads are also installed.

When a youth married, he took his bride to his father's house, and not until that house became over-populated did he build himself one with the help of his friends.

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picture of house

Round houses have become obsolete; indeed I saw only one-that of José Henry on the Salt River Reservation, but this, I presume, was a poor example, having degenerated from the original type; therefore I deem it best to use the descriptions given by former observers, which more or less accurately picture old José's hut. Emory (p. 85) described a round house as follows:

"I rode leisurely in the rear, through the thatched huts of the 'Pimos'; each abode consists of a dome-shaped wicker work, about six feet high, and from twenty to fifty feet in diameter, thatched with straw or corn stalks. In front is usually a large arbor, on top of which is piled the cotton in the pod, for drying."

In 1850-53, Bartlett, (vol. II, pp. 233-234) observed the dwellings of the "Pimo" Indians, and in 1901-02 Russell (p. 154, pL XXXV) gave a more detailed account of the construction of the round house which I quote:

"The central supporting framework is usually entirely of cottonwood though other timber is sometimes used. The lighter framework is of willow, on which is laid the arrowwood, cattail reeds, wheat straw, cornstalks, or similar material that supports the outer layer of earth.

"The roof is supported by four crotched posts set in the ground 3 or 4 m. apart, with two heavy beams in the crotches. Lighter cross poles are laid on the last, completing the central framework. Light willow poles are set half a meter in the ground around the periphery of the circle, their tops are bent in to lap over the central roof poles, and horizontal stays are lashed to them with willow bark. The frame is then ready for the covering of brush or straw. Although earth is heaped upon the roof to a depth of 15 or 20 cm. it does not render it entirely waterproof. When finished the ki is very strong and capable of withstanding heavy gales or supporting the weight of the people who may gather on the roof during festivals."

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(Informant: George Webb)

The thorns of the ocotillo (moelhok) were removed, the stalks bound together with rawhide or wire, and suspended from the ceiling as shelves. Dry sahuaro ribs were used for the same purpose.

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(Oos gaat, meaning 'wooden guns')
(Informant: George Webb)

Hunting bows of the Pima are rather crude and are not decorated. Osage orange wood is preferred, but they are also made of willow (chi ul), and of catclaw (oopat) from the mountains. The trunk of a young osage orange tree about twelve inches in circumference is cut down and while green is split into halves and then shaped to the desired size with a butcher knife. The bow is bent to the proper arc and fastened with wire until thoroughly dry.

Another method was followed by Lewis Manuel, who also used osage orange wood, but while the bow is green it is bent between the forked branches of a tree and allowed to dry in that position. For decoration, ochre (hoe-et) and black earth (mots), which are dug in the mountains, are used; and soot from pots is also sometimes employed.

Jumbi Juan's bow, made of osage orange, was nearly five feet long. His bowstring (giadak) was made of twisted horse-sinew,but the mice had gnawed it. Bow-guards were made of rawhide, although for a well-rounded bow they were not necessary.

Before the introduction of domestic animals, deer supplied the sinew for making bowstrings, but now the sinew is taken from the back of a dead horse or cow. The sinew is dried, then soaked, stretched, and the strands twisted together into a two-ply cord which is attached to a notch cut within an inch or so of each end of the bow. (See Russell, p. 95.)

* * * *

(Informant: Vincent Thomas)

Arrows (hapot; plural, haapot) are made from straight arrowwood shafts which are pointed at one end, and having either two or three chicken or hawk feathers attached to the other sinew. Another informant, Lewis Manuel, stated that sinew is wrapped near the point of an arrow to keep it from splitting.

Castetter and Underhill (p. 72) state that both arrow-bush and creosote-bush were used for arrowshafts.

* * * *

Pima name: Gioho, meaning 'wooden guns')
(Informant: Mrs. Adolph Wilson)
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When Mrs. Wilson was a very small child her grandmother used to carry her and firewood together in a burden basket which was made as follows: Twisted agave fiber was acquired from the Papago and woven into a truncated cone of the desired size, the upper circumference of which was braced by a strong willow hoop. A design was woven in and afterward intensified by black and red colors. Two long saguaro poles were tied together near the bottom and placed in front, and two short ribs of saguaro were fastened at the rear, which fitted against the back. The willow hoop was attached to the four sticks by a cord of human hair, and the wrapping was continued around the ends of the poles.

A matting headband and an apron to protect the back were obtained from the Papago. The headband was attached to the willow hoop with a hair rope. The informant said that she remembers strands of her hair being cut frequently for this purpose.

An extra helping stick, forked at the top, was used in conjunction with the two long ribs to form a tripod which braced the basket for loading and also helped the bearer to rise. Looking toward the opening, the burden basket is round, and conical in side view. Sizes vary with that of the bearer. (See Russell. pp. 140-143, pL 34; Mason, fig. 100, p. 295.)

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(Informant: Teresa Conger)

Pima basketry has intricate and striking designs, and the stitches are fine and the finish smooth. Small branches of Salix Gooddingii (chi ul) are collected and split in two when green, immediately peeled, twisted in a circle, and allowed to dry in the sun. The sewing is done with these withes. Seedpods of the unicorn plant, Martynia parvilfora (ihuk) are used for the black designs. These plants grow voluntarily in the cornfields, but if not sufficient in quantity, they are cultivated. The dry pods must be soaked and split from their points downward; the ends are cut off and the splints are buried in wet earth to keep them pliable while the work is in progress. These black strands are twelve inches or longer, and so tough that they outwear the willow.

Cattail stalks, Typha (oodeak), are gathered in August and when green are peeled and split into halves, then laid on the ground to dry and bleach in the sun; next they are split very thin, dampened, and twisted with the black strands to start the center of the basket. The end of the split cattail is held between the teeth while the work continues. The distance for the design is measured while the stitching proceeds, and the ends of both types of withes are carefully hidden. The margin of the basket is finished by braiding either material in and out.

Implements used in basketmaking are a knife to cut the white and black strands according to design, and an awl to make the stitches. (See Russell, p. 135; Castetter and Underhill, pp. 56-59; Mason, figs. I98 to 203, p. 519.)

* * * *

(Informant: Emma Howard)

The storage basket for indoors, called vashom, is not so coarse as that which is made to keep out-of-doors. Wheat straw is cut as long as possible, and dampened slightly to make it flexible. The bottom of the basket is formed by coiling this straw, which is then stitched tightly together with soaked, young mesquite (kwi) bark. A large awl or needle made of hardwood, which through long service becomes polished, is used to pierce a hole through the straw. The basket bottom is about two feet in diameter and as the basket is built up it is widened to about four feet, but gradually becomes narrower at the top which must be sufficiently large to admit a person, as the arm is not long enough to reach the grain as it is used. When the basket is full of wheat, the cover is put into place and sealed with a paste made of strongly alkaline earth, which is salty and keeps away mice. The Pima kept these baskets in their storehouses, and in olden days, when the children were first required to attend school, mothers would hide their little ones in these large receptacles. Once a small girl was discovered and carried off by the authorities because of her outcry when stung by a scorpion.

In connection with the above, Lewis Manuel stated that storage baskets were unsealed and the basektry covers removed when the roadrunner (d'adai) first sang in the summer; but now no attention is paid to the old laws, and his wife will open the cans of corn which she has put up, whenever she likes. (See Bartlett, vol. II, p. 235; Mason, p. 524.)

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(Informant: Stella Conger)

To make a storage basket (hom ta): Green wands of arrowwood or sweet willow are twisted into a four-foot circle and bound with wire. The sides are then built up with green arrowwood branches, the leaves left on. The large ends are stuck into the lower circle to anchor them, and the brush is twisted into rolls and coiled, gradually narrowing until the top of the basket is reached. The depth of the basket is about two feet. A platform is made of two layers of crossed logs on which strips of thick arrowwood branches are laid close together and the basket is placed thereon. The bottom of the receptacle is lined with straw and a bag of wheat is stored within to keep safely through the season. The basket is then covered with arrowwood branches and earth. It requires about two days' work to build this basket receptacle.

* * * *

(Informant: Lewis Manuel)

Bird-cages were made from willow withes (chi ul) or from arrowwood and were tied with strips of willow-bark. These cages confined eagles, doves, and hawks for the great hunters who used their feathers for arrows. (See Russell, p. 102.)

* * * *

Pima name: Woolkut
(Informants: George Webb and Lewis Nelson)
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A frame was constructed of green screwbean or catclaw branches, or of mesquite root. The latter were approximately four feet long and about half an inch or an inch in circumference. The material was bent in an elongate "U," with the sides about eight inches apart, and in this form it was allowed to dry. Dead sahuaro ribs were sometimes used as cross-pieces, also cottonwood or mesquite sticks which had been flattened by being split, and they were left a trifle longer than the width of the frame. These slats were notched an inch or so from each end and bound on the frame with sinew two or three inches apart, running three-fourths of the way down the cradle. In some cases this structure was padded all around and bound with strips of willow-bark to keep the baby in and to make it more comfortable. The bark padding on the curved head-piece was higher than the sides. Stripped inner bark of cottonwood or dead willow was stretched the length of the cradle and hung down beyond the last cross-bar. Over this soft and absorbent layer, a thrice-folded, hand-woven cotton blanket was arranged. The baby was placed on the blanket and its head lay in a soft depression instead of on a hard board, as was frequently the case in other tribes. The position of the baby was often changed to prevent flattening of the bound to the cradle with homespun and hand-woven cotton tape four or five feet long and about four inches in width. At a later period, for weaving these tapes, the parents bought aniline-dyed Germantown wool when they could afford it, which was woven into various designs.

A detachable hood was made by weaving strips of willowbark in and out of twenty or more willow withes. These withes were first bound closely together at inches on the underside. The weaving was done in patterns which for decoration, were accentuated by the use of colors.

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(Informant: Pelvin Newman)

Ladles made of mesquite wood are to be found in every house. Pelvin Newman makes them from the trunk of a mesquite, which will produce from four to six ladles. The wood must be worked while green, as it is very hard and will crack when dry. Newman starts by splitting the trunk with a small hatchet, which he also uses for the first rough shaping; then he employs a steel gouge which he pounds with a wooden mallet, smoothing and finishing the ladle with a butcher knife. No drawing is made for a pattern. The wood is dampened from time to time as the work progresses. Newman makes mixing bowls of the old-fashioned kind, and for modern trade he also manufactures rough rolling pins. It requires four days to make four ladles, for which the Indians pay him a dollar apiece. When Newman was young, he made bows out of willow, but there is no demand for them now. (See Russell, p. 101, figs. 14b, I4C.)

According to George Webb, the trunk and larger branches of paloverde are also made into ladles.

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Pima name: Chuepa
(Informant: Stephen Jones)

While gathering material from Stephen Jones, I spied a mortar made of cottonwood, measuring about three feet across and having very thick walls. The log lay horizontal with a circular hole cut out of the side. A large stone pestle (veetkut) was used in crushing mesquite beans in the mortar. I asked to have this mortar, now a rare household utensil, deposited in the museum for safekeeping, but was told that it was constantly in use, although I had found it under a discarded baby's crib in the front yard. The hole was completely filled with chicken droppings. (See Russell, p. 99, figs. I3a, I3b.)

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(Informant: Stephen Jones)

The informant had heard of shovels made of ironwood and cottonwood, but had never seen one. In his youth the Pima used small shovels made from iron they had found and taken to a blacksmith in Tucson, who fashioned it into tools. (See Russell, p. 97, fig. 10b.)

* * * *

(InformantS: George Webb, Stephen Jones, and Lewis Manuel)

Long ago the dead leaves of agave (a-ut) were cut with a sharp stone, beaten with another stone, the fibers straightened out, split, and then rolled into a great ball. It required two men to twine the fiber into a cord, several of which were in turn twisted into a rope by tying them to the end of a rope- twister. This implement was made of two mesquite sticks, the longer one having a hole in one end, through which the shorter stick was thrust to serve as a handle, which was prevented from slipping off by a forked end or a carved button, but was free to turn. Then the rope-twister was whirled. In this manner, also, rope was made from human hair, and later from horsehair. The latter was in different colors: black, white, and red. (See Russell, pp. 106, 114, figs. 23, 37.)

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(Informant: Mrs. Fulwiler)

Any time of the year, stalks of Indian broom (shooshk vakch) are cut about four feet long and tied together at one end with a string. This broom is used green for sweeping the yard, because when dry it becomes too brittle and has to be discarded.

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(Informant: George Webb)

Formerly flutes were ceremonial instruments, but now they are fabricated solely for the music they can be made to produce. The method is as follows: The cane is cut, leaving two entire sections and about an inch protruding beyond the two end nodes, which are pierced by burning or drilling. Then a hole is pierced on each side of the center joint, and a groove made between them. Three holes are drilled for the fingers, and a ribbon is tied over the upper part of the groove to force the air down.

Bartlett (vol. II, p. 222) in 1850-53 described the use of the flute in courtship: "The fair one's attention is sought . . . To do this, he takes his flute, an instrument of cane with four holes, and, seating himself beneath a bush near her dwelling, keeps up a plaintive noise for hours together. This music is continued day after day; and if no notice is at length taken of him by the girl, he may 'hang up his flute,' as it is tantamount to a rejection."

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(Informant: Lewis Manuel)

The only drum the Pima had was an inverted basket on which they beat with two sticks.

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(Informants: Lewis Manuel and Jumbi Juan)

Before the white man came, cultivated gourds, or calabashes, served as rattles, canteens, and dippers, but now they are used principally for rattles. Jumbi Juan fashioned the latter in the following manner: The gourd was dried, a hole pierced in the top and the bottom, the seeds removed, and the inside filled with enough gravel from ant-hills to produce a satisfactory sound. A stick of mesquite-root was thrust through both holes and tightly fitted. For decoration, holes were bored with an awl in any design that pleased the maker, and burning charcoal was used for coloring. Lewis Manuel had on hand a gourd of the proper size for making into a rattle for accompanying his sacred Pima ceremonial songs, although after his marriage he voluntarily joined the Mormon faith. He told me that he knows of no further use for the wild gourd (adam).

Copyright © 1884. The Arizona Board of Regents

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The University of Arizona Press, 4/2/97 2:29PM